Criticism increases of EPA advisory panel’s pro-asbestos, anti-mesothelioma victim slant increases

Thursday, 24 May 2007, 03:02 CDT

Asbestos Board in Question: Concerns Raised About Candidates

By Susanne Rust, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

May 24–Potential panelists for a federal asbestos advisory board have financial conflicts that could pose a threat to public health and safety, according to researchers and environmental groups.

They are concerned about an Environmental Protection Agency board being convened to draft a risk assessment for asbestos fibers. Public comments concerning the panel will close today.

Although the EPA does not regulate asbestos, the agency provides a risk assessment that state and other federal agencies use to define exposure safety. These assessments are used as guides in the cleanup of asbestos-contaminated sites, including Superfund sites.

According to Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the recommendations of this panel are “likely to impact federal clean-up standards and may have further impacts on occupational and public health protections in the U.S. and internationally.”

The council and others are particularly concerned with “short list” nominees who have represented corporations such as W.R. Grace & Co. — a company that owned a vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont. The mine was closed in 1990 after reports of asbestos-related illness and death in the town.

The short list of 65 people also includes scientists who either own or work for product defense consulting firms. These are companies hired by corporations and trade associations to influence policy. The defense council is concerned about 12 of the nominees.

“The finances of these scientists are so closely linked to companies affected by federal asbestos policy that they should not be included on a panel whose work will help shape such policy,” wrote David Michaels in a letter to the EPA. He’s is a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.

The EPA panel is charged with reviewing a new risk assessment model, designed by the agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, which would allow the office to develop site-specific cancer assessments for Superfund sites.

The panel will have no policy or regulatory role. Its advice will be used to inform regulation, not set it, said Tony Maciorowski, deputy director of the EPA’s scientific advisory board office.

Asbestos is a known human carcinogen. Its inhalation has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer that infects the lining of the lungs and other organs.

According to an internal EPA newsletter, the new model will help determine the carcinogenic potential of asbestos at specific sites and could result in cancer risk assessments that differ from the EPA’s current default.

Watchdog groups are wary about nominees who have argued on behalf of asbestos trade associations for other federal agencies, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

On May 4, three of the nominees — Ernest McConnell, president of ToxPath Inc.; Graham Gibbs, president of Safety Health Environment International Consultants; and Wayne Berman, president of Aeolus Inc. — appeared at an Occupational Safety and Health agency meeting to discuss asbestos research. The three nominees advocated on behalf of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, a trade group affected by federal asbestos regulations.

McConnell, who has researched asbestos for federal agencies and industry, said the panel should consist of people who know the most about the issue, regardless of their funding source.

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Copyright (c) 2007, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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